How to Help a Child with a Chronic Health Condition

By Elizabeth Ernest, MSSW, MSCFT

Autoimmune diseases and other chronic health conditions can take a toll on anyone’s mental health; but when they are diagnosed in childhood, they can be especially difficult. Some examples of these chronic health conditions are Celiac Disease, Diabetes, Lupus, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Crohn’s, Cystic Fibrosis, and food allergies. Children and teens affected by these health concerns often struggle with anxiety, depression, feeling left out, fears, panic attacks, and many other symptoms. These can be hard to cope with for the child or teen experiencing the symptoms, as well as the rest of the family. 

If you’re feeling worried about your child’s mental health after a diagnosis of a chronic health condition, here are a few things that you can do to help your child:

  • Set aside time to sit with your child to discuss the health concern and address any questions they may have.
  • Explain to your child that while telling others about the condition may be embarrassing or shameful, by telling trusted friends and family members they can better understand what your child is going through and how to provide the best support possible.
  • Inform teachers, coaches, or other influential adults who may be alone with your child so they are aware of how to handle the situation if symptoms arise.
  • Connect with the school counselor to address concerns of teasing and ostracism. 
  • Try to be extra tolerant and supportive when symptoms arise.
  • Help your child connect with others who are experiencing similar symptoms or who have been diagnosed with a chronic health concern.

The Center for Mindfulness and CBT’s newest employee, Elizbeth Ernest, MSSW, MSCFT, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when she was a teenager, and has experienced the anxiety, stress, and burden that health issues can take on our mental health. Her personal experience, along with her training and experience in working with children and adolescents, puts her in a unique position to provide children and teens with empathy, understanding, and skills that will help them best cope with their diagnosis.

Elizabeth will be conducting mindfulness groups for children, teens, and young adults (grouped with similar age peers) who have autoimmune diseases, chronic health concerns, or food allergies. Participating in mindfulness can decrease anxiety, depression, emotional distress, and increase executive functioning (working memory, planning, and organization), and sense of calmness. This group will focus on gaining support from others affected by similar health concerns, while also learning and practicing mindfulness techniques. The group will meet on Tuesdays from 5:30pm-6:30pm. Please contact Elizabeth for more information at Elizabeth@mindfulstl.com or 502-694-0079. 

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